Tidewater Gardening - October 2011

October Opportunities


K. Marc Teffeau

One of the challenges in writing this column a month in advance is making accurate predictions. After predicting a hot, dry August – well, that didn’t happen – I am leery of making any more prognostications. The good news is that we went into the fall with a lot of moisture and the groundwater recharged.
Between Irene and Lee, we were too blessed with moisture, but as far as the landscape is concerned, it was needed. If the normal rainfall pattern continues into the rest of the fall, the ornamental plants in the landscape, especially the evergreens, will be well hydrated going into the winter.
This is really good news if you plan to plant trees and shrubs this fall. Most homeowners think of spring as the best time to plant trees and shrubs, however, October and November are generally considered the best time for moving plants in the landscape.
After the drought and heat problems of this past summer, a number of shrubs and trees have died or been uprooted and are in need of replacement. Garden centers and nurseries usually stock a good selection of woody plants this time of year.
You can transplant deciduous trees and shrubs after they become dormant, usually after the first or second hard frost. You can also transplant evergreen trees and shrubs, but do this before they become dormant.
The exception to fall transplanting is pine seedlings. They do very poorly when transplanted in the fall because they are not able to develop good root systems before winter sets in.
When planting trees and shrubs be mindful of a couple of concerns. Plant trees at least 6 feet away from sidewalks and concrete pools, so growing roots will not crack the concrete. Also remember the mature height of the plant. This will reduce maintenance problems in the future.
To minimize the look of open space between new shrubs, plant a low-growing ground cover such as bugleweed or winter creeper.
October is a good time to do maintenance of the trees and shrubs in the landscape. Old, fallen leaves may contain disease innoculum for next year’s plant infections. Remove an infected debris from around the plant’s base and dispose of it.
We usually recommend mulching newly planted trees and shrubs to reduce weed problems and to conserve moisture. In the fall, however, it is usually a good idea to wait to mulch until after the soil temperatures have reached 32°.
Mulches applied too early can do more harm than good. Mulch is used to keep soil temperatures constant and prevent frost heaving, not to keep it warm. In October, the trees and shrubs start to harden up for the upcoming cold weather. To encourage this process, remove mulch from around the stems of trees and shrubs. This will also discourage mouse and vole damage to the stems during the winter.
Conifers that have poor color or weak growth may respond to fertilizer applied between mid-October and mid-March. Light pruning of both needled and broad-leafed evergreens is recommended in the late fall to encourage a strong framework to help the plant overcome any snow damage. Remove any weak or crowded branches.
Remember to water evergreen shrubs thoroughly before the ground freezes, especially if we have a dry fall. Evergreens continue to lose water by transpiring during the winter, but when the ground is frozen, the roots cannot replenish the water lost through the leaves or needles.
October is also a great time for a bagworm picking party. This will help reduce the amount of spring hatch from over-wintering eggs in the bags and helps reduce the amount of spraying you may have to do next year.
This month is also clean-up time in the vegetable garden. Remove any dead or dying plants. Compost the debris if it doesn’t contain disease problems. Use a shredder, if available, to cut up the plant debris before placing it in the compost pile. This will encourage faster decomposition of the plant material.
If you do not have a shredder and have only a small amount of materials, run over it with the lawn mower. This works very well if you have a bagging mower. Then, rake up the cut material or empty the bag into the compost pile.
If the ground is dry and workable, and the garden site is not subject to soil erosion, consider doing a fall plowing and letting the ground lay exposed over the winter. Late-fall tilling can help control insects, such as corn borer, corn earworm, cucumber beetle, squash bug and vine borer, because it exposes over-wintering insects to winter conditions. It also make soil preparation easier in the spring.
Another alternative is to mulch the entire garden in the fall with straw to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Then, in the spring, only pull back the mulch in the areas you plan to plant. You will need to do this a couple of weeks before planting, however, to give the soil time to warm up.
October is a good time to start harvesting and drying or freezing the herbs from your herb garden for winter use. Before the first frost, remove green tomatoes from the plants. Either ripen them in a brown paper bag or lift the entire plant and hang it upside down in a warm spot.
An alternative, to prolong the season a little bit, is to use some harvest-extending fabric like Re-may. Cover the plants in the early evening and remove it in the morning. This may carry you through for a couple of weeks or more, especially if we have a mild fall. This material will not protect the plants when we get a really hard frost, however.
Harvest winter squash once the vines die back, but definitely before a hard freeze, and continue harvesting late fall crops such as beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale and leeks.
As an alternative, some root crops such as carrots, onions and parsnips can be left in the ground and dug up as needed if your garden soil is well drained. Apply enough mulch to keep the ground from freezing, and the crop will be kept fresh until it is needed.
Plant cool-season annuals like pansies, flowering cabbage and kale. Watch your thermometer on colder nights. A windless, cold, clear night usually means a killing frost. You can keep your chrysanthemums and asters blooming for quite a while longer if you take the time to provide a little frost protection for them. A small, simple frame covered with cheesecloth or an old bed sheet placed over your plants on frosty nights can add a month or more of garden blooms.
With a little planting effort now in October, you can speed the timing of that first new growth next spring by as much as a month. After the soil temperature drops below 60°, spring flowering bulbs of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, Siberian squill, dwarf irises, anemone, and crocus should be planted.
Be sure to select healthy, disease-free bulbs. If any of the bulbs that you purchased are soft or have an “off” odor, discard them in the trash can. They have begun to rot.
Some gardening experts recommend adding bone meal or a bulb fertilizer into the planting hole, as you prepare the soil. Most spring flowering bulbs should be in the ground by the early part of this month, with the exception of tulips which may be planted up until early November.
Gladiolas, dahlias and other tender bulbs should be dug before the ground freezes, and stored in a cool, dark area. Dahlia and begonia tubers should be stored in a box of slightly moist peat moss. Gladiola corms can be stored in a paper bag without additional packing.

Happy Gardening!